Clinical psychologists commonly use Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to deal with phobias. It’s a two-pronged approach that tackles your anxieties by first, addressing your thoughts and attitudes about the fear and, secondly, combating your physical response to the thing you’re afraid of.
One process used within this is known as cognitive restructuring. According to its pioneers, Albert Ellis and Robert Harper, you can begin to repair ‘faulty thinking’ by either discussing your fears with someone else, or using ‘self-talk’. The idea is to reveal that if you confront your biggest fear, there’s no chance that you’ll come to any harm at all.
The second branch of CBT requires you to actually take action against your phobias. Both parts of the process are vital to success, but this is where you actually come face-to-face with what scares you.
One common technique is known as modelling. The idea is to observe or spend time with someone that regularly deals with whatever it is you’re scared of. So if you’re scared of spiders, you could watch someone handling a creepy crawly. When that no longer seems difficult, the next step would be to get closer to the spider in slight increments – never taking on more than you can manage. Regular practice is essential in building up a ‘resistance’ to your fear over time.
While exposure to your biggest fear may well help you to overcome it over time, throwing yourself in the deep end could actually make matters worse. Andy Field who researches the acquisition of fear at Sussex University warns that facing your fears directly can result in you exacerbating them.
Follow Science Focus on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flipboard